The Bills are in great position after ten games thanks in large part to these ten players
The Buffalo Bills are in first place in the AFC East after ten games, just ahead of the Miami Dolphins. Buffalo’s three losses have come against the Tennessee Titans in an odd week, the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs just six days later on another modified-schedule week, and on a Hail Mary that propelled the Arizona Cardinals to victory.
In short, the Bills have been good enough this year that it has taken odd circumstances and extreme luck to defeat them. This is not a familiar feeling for many Bills fans, as we’ve spent the better part of this century watching the Bills toil among the dregs of the NFL. Other hot starts (2012, 2017) felt like flukes. This one feels almost disappointing, especially after losing in gut-wrenching fashion just last week.
The Bills have had multiple players play a large role in their record—for better and for worse. Here are ten players who have shaped the 2020 season for Buffalo so far. Note that this isn’t a ranking; it’s merely a discussion of some impactful parts of what has been a strong start for the club.
QB Josh Allen
Obviously. The Bills’ third-year quarterback has had a major coming-out party this year, as he has not only obliterated most subjective predictions about his career trajectory, but he’s also obliterated math. As an English teacher, I like that situation. Allen has progressed in all areas, from his decision-making to his play recognition to the unicorn of them all: his accuracy. Does he still force some passes? Absolutely. It’s what someone with elite athletic talent and extreme confidence in his ability is going to do from time to time. Think of all the times where Jim Kelly had miserable days with multiple interceptions only to lead the Bills to victory in the fourth quarter. On Sunday, Allen seemed to have done something similar, overcoming two horrible interceptions (and two near-interceptions that were fortunately dropped) to throw a gorgeous “game-winning” touchdown in the fourth quarter. Allen’s propensity to show up huge in big moments has continued, but his consistency overall has really allowed him to shine. He’s not only in the discussion for a Pro Bowl nod, but he is also firmly in the MVP discussion. Allen has elevated his game, and he has elevated the team along with him.
WR Stefon Diggs
Part of Allen’s growth has been an improvement in his supporting cast. No part of that cast has been more important than Diggs, who has given Allen an elite target that he was missing over the last two years. That’s not a knock on Allen’s other receivers, either—Diggs is just that good. He currently leads the NFL in targets, receptions, and receiving yards, and he’s one of those players who is always open, even when he’s covered. While most of those players are big-bodied types, Diggs stands at just 6’ and 191 lbs, so he’s an atypical receiver for that description. His talent far outweighs his stature, however, and he has helped Buffalo’s offense turn the corner from a sometimes-explosive but often inefficient unit to one of the league’s most dangerous.
WR Cole Beasley
The diminutive slot man may fly under the radar a bit, but he deserves plenty of love here and his inclusion on this list is undoubted. Since coming to Buffalo after spending the early part of his career with the Dallas Cowboys, Beasley has put up career-changing numbers. He was always a secondary option in Dallas, and while he has remained one in Buffalo, it seems that offensive coordinator Brian Daboll has a plan to ensure that Beasley sees plenty of targets against particular looks. As more teams have begun to play zone against Buffalo, Beasley has become a focal point on offense. He’s on pace to set career highs this year in targets, receptions, and receiving yards. Right now, Beasley has been targeted 67 times, and he has 55 receptions for 642 yards and three touchdowns. That puts him on pace for 107 targets, 75 receptions, and his first career season over 1,000 receiving yards—with a pace for 1,027 yards total. I considered putting him in our Pro Bowl article earlier this week, but while his numbers are outstanding in the context of his career and this offense, they aren’t in the context of the league as a whole. No matter—Beasley has been a tremendously important part of Buffalo’s success thus far.
It was a rough start for the rookie kicker, who missed some chip shots in the early going in spite of his ridiculous leg strength. However, as the year has progressed, his confidence has grown, as well, and Bass has shown exactly why the Bills rolled with the rookie over their popular veteran, Stephen Hauschka. Bass has missed an extra point and six field goals—most pushed to the right—but he is coming off a week where he nailed three 50-yard field goals, hitting from 54, 55, and 58 yards in the first half against Arizona, which is the only time that’s ever happened, and he continues to be a weapon on kickoffs. Bass has hit 40 of his 58 kicks for touchbacks, and the hangtime on his shorter kickoffs has allowed Buffalo’s coverage unit to pin opponents inside the 25 often. Bass has contributed plenty to Buffalo’s seven wins this season.
DE Jerry Hughes
The longest tenured member of the team is having a resurgent 2020 season, as he has nearly surpassed his sack total from last season (4.5) by notching four sacks in this season’s first ten games. He has equaled the number of QB hits he had from last year (9), adding two forced fumbles, a fumble recovery, and an interception to his 2020 ledger. He is only one tackle short of his 2019 total, and with three tackles-for-loss, he’s halfway to matching last year’s total there, as well. Hughes has teamed with newcomer Mario Addison to form a solid overall pass rush so far in 2020.
Last year, Buffalo used a rotational system at right tackle, playing veteran Ty Nsekhe and rookie Cody Ford at a near-even split. This year, Ford has moved to his stronger position at guard, and Williams has solidified the right tackle spot in the passing game. On the plus side, Williams has only allowed two sacks so far. He has committed six penalties, however, which is tied for third-most in the league. Last year, Ford committed eight penalties and allowed seven sacks at right tackle, while Nsekhe committed three penalties with zero sacks allowed. Ford has yet to allow a sack at guard, so Williams’s strong production has come with the added benefit of allowing Ford to play well at his better position.
As Edmunds’s recovery from a shoulder injury he suffered in Week 1 has progressed, so has the Bills’ defense. With Edmunds clearly limited thanks to injury, the Bills did not look like the same defensive squad. They still haven’t looked like the unit that was ranked near the top of the league last season, but as Edmunds’s health has improved, so has the defensive unit. When Edmunds played poorly earlier in the year, the Bills’ defense looked horrendous. Edmunds is clearly a vital piece to the defense, and he has had a large impact on the way the season has gone thus far. The bye week should allow him to come back against the Los Angeles Chargers at full strength, which bodes well for Buffalo’s stop unit in the final portion of the regular season and beyond.
As the only corner to remain healthy thus far (knock on every wooden object around, please), White has had the greatest impact at his positional group. He is one of the league’s best, and while he has already allowed a career-high three touchdowns, he still is only allowing 54% of the passes thrown his way to be completed. He also leads the team in pass breakups (5) and is tied with fellow corner Josh Norman for the lead in fumble recoveries (2). It’s not as strong as his 2019 season, but White’s presence has been vital to the Bills this year, especially given the chaos at CB2.
The Bills are fifth in the league in average starting field position, as they average a starting point of their own 31-yard line. That’s thanks in large part to the success of Roberts as a returner, as the veteran is second in the league in average yards per kickoff return and fourth in average yards per punt return. Roberts has swung a few games in the plus-direction thanks to his returns, and some have made the argument that he helped to swing the Arizona game in the opposite direction with a few bad returns in the third quarter. His impact has been more positive than negative for sure, and he has had a tremendous impact in the game’s “third phase.”
Buffalo’s best safety is also one of the league’s best. I love Micah Hyde, but Poyer has been outstanding this year and every year since signing with Buffalo. Poyer leads the Bills in tackles, and he’s second in the league in the category as of this writing. He has two interceptions, as well, to go with four pass breakups. I took some heat for omitting him from the Pro Bowl article, and I think his case is an interesting one. Aside from the tackles, he doesn’t really have the “sexy” stats for a secondary player, but he’s someone I’ll definitely vote for this year. His play has been top-notch in the back end, and like our longtime commenter Ron from NM wrote, his play (coupled with Hyde’s) has essentially been the difference between Buffalo’s defense being bad and abysmal. Poyer has been excellent through ten games this year, and he almost certainly will continue to be excellent throughout the remainder of the 2020 season.